Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In Theaters: 21 JUMP STREET (2012)

(US - 2012)

Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller.  Written by Michael Bacall.  Cast:  Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Brie Larson, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis, Ellie Kemper, Chris Parnell, Lindsay Broad, Dax Flame, Nick Offerman, Holly Robinson-Peete.  (R, 109 mins)

Sporting a one-sheet with one of the more risque tag lines in recent memory, this film version of the 1987-1991 TV series doesn't try to replicate its source material and instead goes strictly for laughs, and as initial reviews indicated, it's surprisingly entertaining.  After screwing up their first arrest, hapless cops Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), enemies in high school in 2005 but best buds in 2012 at the police academy, get chewed out by their captain (Nick Offerman), who busts them down to 21 Jump Street.  The captain describes it as an undercover unit they tried out in the 1980s, but it's being resurrected now since no one can come up with any good ideas anymore.  That's the first of many amusing self-critiquing jabs 21 JUMP STREET takes at itself.  Now undercover as sibling high school students, and constantly being questioned about why they look almost 30, Schmidt and Jenko are ordered by Jump Street's constantly angry, always-yelling boss Capt Dickson (Ice Cube) to find the supplier of the new synthetic drug HFS (short for "Holy Fucking Shit") that's being distributed through the high school.  Dickson is feeling the heat after a rich kid named Billiam Willingham (Johnny Simmons) OD's on HFS, and tells the undercover duo, "This kid's white, so people actually give a shit."

Jenko and Schmidt in high school

And undercover seven years later

Capt. Dickson doing what he does best: yelling.
When 21 JUMP STREET sticks to smartly-conceived self-referential jokes and "He said what?" moments like Dickson's line about Billiam Willingham, it's often hysterically funny.  Another great bit is Jenko's John Woo-esque insistence that "everything looks cooler with doves," so you know there will be a shot with the two of them walking in slo-mo, surrounded by flying doves.  But the joke is that Schmidt is releasing the doves himself while they walk.  There's also an interesting running commentary about dumb jock Jenko's utter disbelief that his type no longer rules the school, and that past outcasts like environmentalists, vegans, hipsters, and anime kids are now the in-crowd ("I blame this on GLEE!" he pouts).  It's that kind of humor for a good chunk of the film, but as often happens in situations like this, the film eventually becomes the very thing it's lampooning, with car chases and shootouts, and I guess that's to be expected.  But the first half or even 2/3 of the film has an edge that the back end lacks, especially with a tired subplot about geeky Schmidt finally being accepted by the cool crowd and, of course, forgetting that he's a cop first.  Naturally, he and Jenko will have a falling out and patch things up in time to take down the bad guys.  But there's a lot of big laughs throughout, and the leads are a good team, plus there's a few cameos from the original 21 JUMP STREET crew, one in particular being one of the film's major highlights. 

Written by SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD co-scripter Michael Bacall and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the team behind CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, 21 JUMP STREET managed to get some overwhelmingly positive reviews this past weekend, and it is quite a bit better than the dismal trailer and TV ads made it look.  I wouldn't put it on the level of 2010's THE OTHER GUYS (one of the best comedies of the last several years) as far as recent cop cliche spoofs go, but it's a pleasant surprise all the same.

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